Previously in this series – The Dissent of Man – 2nd epoch
Fellow Unbound author Stevyn Colgan, illustrator, speaker, songwriter, sceptic, Blue Peter badge winner, QI contributor, and lovely fellow, who has a fantastic book project on the go in Constable Colgan’s Connectoscope, (you can see them filming the pitch video, below) has also written on the difficult subject of the justification of crowd sourcing for books.
In his article, Because I hope I’m worth it, which I urge you to read, Stevyn reports on recent findings that, “A typical UK author earns 33% less than the national average wage”. This is not how it has always been. Writers were valued once, at least as equals, and the diversity of their work supported for their contribution.
As a brief aside, I would ask you to consider what is it that we expect from writers. Beautiful prose, certainly. Witticisms and insight, good ones please. Ideas, yes. Ideas. Surely this is the essence of the writer’s role, to come up with ideas and present them in an attractive way. Within the mystical twists of a novel. In elegant expositions that demystify complexity. With poetic grace that transcends our everyday. Writers are surely worth keeping as part of society and culture.
So, how has the modern devaluation of writing arisen? Very simply, all indicators are pointing towards a more single-minded commercialised publishing industry, one uninterested in diversity, only profits, and one unwilling to take risks. Instead, more guaranteed titles are being entertained, ones that will cover costs and make a profit, in some cases a huge profit for the publisher. And in our modern times, there is one commodity that you can be sure of turning profit: celebrity. Mainstream publishers have become single product orientated and the holistic vision across their catalogue, and across the industry as a whole, is gone.
Before you claim that actually there are now more writers than ever before, and the real problem is, in fact, an elevated competition to get noticed by publishers and agents, stop. Think about the duplication of ideas, the mass of vampire spin-offs, twitter guides, shades of meh, games of thrones, hunger games, hunger games of thrones, thrones of hungry game, etc.. I would assert that there is more duplication than ever before, but the effective, net number of ideas getting through is on the decline.
Perhaps too much the doom-sayer, but the natural end point for this will be something like the demise of the local business. Your local butcher, baker, candlestick maker, all ousted from the high street by huge supermarket conglomerates who can afford to undercut the small-scale shopkeeper. Diversity will survive only in the form of association with celebrity names. Hence, Pippa Middleton’s “Party Planner”, Peter Andre’s “Dog Love” and Gok Wan’s “Wok Gang.”
The publishing industry is in something of a turmoil. in that they perceive great losses to the ebook revolution. What they miss in their panic to buffer themselves against losses with a few sure fire hits, is that people like ebooks for, yes, the convenience, but also the huge diversity. As Stevyn points out,